What are the three types of reactions to this kind of quote? One is outright rejection, cynicism and dismissal as some kind of woke bullshit. Another is apathy, you know, like “whatever” or what does that even mean? And the last is a wholehearted agreement and recognition of its wisdom. You can think that if your compassion does not include yourself it’s incomplete.
What creates these three types of reactions? Also why do such quotes seem to echo down through the ages from every tradition of wisdom across the planet?
The answer to both these questions has to do with the fundamental physics of how human beings work (or don’t work) on a psychological, emotional and physiological level.
It’s an undisputed fact, that compassion, empathy, and acceptance are as important to a developing child as food or shelter. This is not some esoteric philosophy or new age opinion, it is science. For a child be healthy both mentally and physically, we must meet their emotional needs as well as the physical.
In fact, many would argue that a deficit of the former is more harmful to a developing human than the latter. A deficit of emotional and psychological nourishment dysregulates your hypopituitary adrenal axis (HPA Axis) towards a sustained stress response. This is a fancy pants way of saying that emotional trauma fucks up your brain and hormone systems. Specifically the systems that are responsible for making every single part of you work in harmony.
When the essential nutrients of empathy, compassion and attention are lacking in our childhood, the developing human is forced to cope and adapt. As such they usually repress their deep emotional wounds and maintain that repression with two broad strategies: Fight/Flight or Freeze.
So What Does My Reaction Mean?
The fight/flight strategy fuels the rejecting, cynical and dismissive type of reaction to this quote. The individual is attacking any type of input that may trigger the horrible threat of feeling their terrible emotional wounds. The Freeze strategy underlies the apathetic/whatever reaction to this quote. The individual is “checking out,” avoiding and disassociating from any type of input that may trigger the horrible threat.
Both strategies “work” to the extent that they keep the person functioning, but in the long run, these strategies never heal. And if the wounds are not healed, they typically lead not only to behavioral and physiological problems, they almost ensure that the same wounds will be passed down to their children, and that the terrible cycle will continue.
Millenia of wisdom, cutting edge neuroscience and innovative trauma therapies all agree with Jack Kornfield. Developing authentic, embodied compassion for oneself may be the single most important ingredient in healing emotional trauma as well as bringing regulation back to the HPA Axis / harmony to your entire organism.
To learn how to heal past wounds, click here.
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